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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Newton's In Search Of The Perfect Investment. Technology Investor.

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8:30 AM EST Tuesday, May 9, 2006: The PC business is slow. Dell warned. Microsoft can't deliver Vista. Intel's new chips don't deliver anything remarkable. The big tech are in trouble. There are bright spots. Cell phones boom: Nokia is up. Texas Instruments is edging up. Some of Cramer's "Fast and Furious" tech stocks are up -- Akamai and Citrix Systems. Some are down -- F5 Networks and Rackable Systems. One is flat -- Network Appliance. Smaller ones tend to do better -- GigaBeam -- but can be volatile. I love technology. In the past I've picked stocks based on what I bought and enjoyed. But I haven't found anything compelling recently. It's a tossup whether my new Intel dual core Toshiba laptop is even as fast as my old Toshiba single core laptop. It's hard to pick tech stocks today.

"It's one of those things that can't miss." That's how one producer pitched his movie investment to me early this morning. Why am I leery? The Broadway musical I invested in lost 100% of my money. The next musical that the same producers did contained all Elvis songs. I didn't invest in that, though a bunch of "big names" put up nearly $11 million. And they lost all their money. It lasted a few weeks before it closed. One good thing about investing in the theater is you know quickly if you succeed or fail.

The bulk of my "can't miss" investments in startups missed. I'm increasingly leery when friends and acquaintances approach with "sure" things. You should too.

Remember Todd's mantra: "When in doubt, stay out." Triple tax-free floaters are paying around 3.53% at present. That 3.53% is close to 5% pre-tax. -- which is, as they say in Australia, better than a slap in the belly with a cold fish. And your capital is 100% safe.

Today's psychology: A dollar lost is far more painful than a dollar gained.

An paean to my favorite economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, who died on April 29, aged 97: I met him once in a Cambridge, Mass barbershop. I told him how much I admired his work. He asked me what I did? I told him I was a student at the Business School. He waved his long arm and dismissed me, "They're all Bolsheviks over there." It was classic Galbraith. It didn't mean anything. He was wrong. But , it was great words. I first discovered "conventional wisdom" reading his books and I've used it ever since.

I loved his words. He talked about “the bland leading the bland”, “private opulence and public squalor”. I loved his sense of humor. Shortly after he published a book on the depression called "The Great Crash," he visited a bookshop at La Guardia Airport. The salesperson asked him, "If she could help?" He said he was looking for a recent book by John Kenneth Galbraith. She asked the title. When told, she furrowed her brow and said, "Sir, that isn't a book we could sell in a airport!"

What I most admired about him was his discipline. Despite teaching, diplomating, and advising, he organized himself to write 40 books, including best sellers The Affluent Society, The New Industrial State, The Great Crash and American Capitalism. I'm struggling with my third.

According to the Economist's obit,

"Above a large oak bookcase in John Kenneth Galbraith's elegant sitting room in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a framed sampler was displayed. 'Galbraith's First Law,', read the meticulous red and blue cross-stitch: 'Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.' He thoroughly believed it. Save for his humble origins on a farm in Ontario, little about Mr. Galbraith or his life was modest.

At six foot eight, he was a giant. Intellectually he was equally towering, a man who spent more than seven decades either on the stage of American public policy—as a bureaucrat in Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, a confidante of John Kennedy and adviser to countless other Democrats—or loudly lambasting Washington from offstage left, as a Harvard professor.

For several of those decades, Mr. Galbraith—much to the chagrin of his academic colleagues—could claim to be the best-known economist in the world. His books, more than 40 of them, were spectacularly successful. All this made him an extraordinary public intellectual. But for many, particularly on America's left, he was much more. Mr. Galbraith embodied a creed (a broad skepticism of markets and unshakable belief in a strong state to balance them) and an era, the 1960s, when that sort of liberalism reached its peak. In many eyes, and perhaps his own, Mr. Galbraith was America's Great Liberal Economist, the intellectual heir to John Maynard Keynes, whose contributions to economics are underappreciated by a profession obsessed with mathematical formulae.

He was certainly Keynes's heir in his passion for the trenches of public policy, his recognition that economics could and should be accessible, and his way with words. A devotee of Trollope and Evelyn Waugh—“Scoop” was a favorite—Mr. Galbraith strove to perfect his prose, reworking each passage at least five times. “It was usually on about the fourth day that I put in that note of spontaneity for which I am known,” he once admitted.

Bons mots, however, seemed to come naturally to him. “Economists are economical, among other things, of ideas; most make those of their graduate days last a lifetime.” “Wealth is not without its advantages, and the case to the contrary, although it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive.” As Kennedy's ambassador to India, Mr. Galbraith preferred to write to the president direct: sending letters through the State Department, he told Kennedy, was “like fornicating through a mattress”. ...

A decade ago, Mr. Galbraith lamented that old age brought an annoying affliction he called the “Still Syndrome”. People would constantly note that he was “still” doing things: still “interested in politics” when he showed up at a meeting, “still imbibing” when he had a drink and “still that way” when his eyes lit up on seeing a beautiful woman. The Still Syndrome lasted an immodestly long time. Its passing has left America poorer.

I shall miss him.

John Kenneth Galbraith, not modest

The Affluent Society. A boutique in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles is selling a pair of unremarkable "old" jeans for $3,286.

Something about this appeals. For years, I have tried to have the same password for all my online accounts, only to be thwarted by those systems that want at least one numeric, and then two numerics and then later insisted on changing my password every thirty days, or so.

Cowboy jokes are now in vogue.
A young cowboy walks into a seedy cafe in Prescott, AZ. He sits at the counter and notices an old cowboy with his arms folded staring blankly at a full bowl of chili.

After fifteen minutes of just sitting there staring at it, the young cowboy bravely asks the old cowpoke, "If you ain't gonna eat that, mind if I do?"

The older cowboy slowly turns his head toward the young wrangler and in his best cowboy manner says, "Nah, you go ahead."

Eagerly, the young cowboy reaches over and slides the bowl over to his place and starts spooning it in with delight. He gets nearly down to the bottom and notices a dead mouse in the chili. The sight was shocking and he immediately barfs up the chili into the bowl.

The old cowboy quietly says, "Yep, that's as far as I got, too."

Bill Maher's monologue was not from "other night." A reader corrected me. It was from last September. Several people were upset at my publishing it. Parts of the monologue were funny. Parts were deadly serious. My personal day-by-day concern lies with the fine American men and women dying daily in what seems to me a pointless, unwinable war.

Harry Newton

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads. Thus I cannot endorse any, though some look mighty interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Claire's law school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.
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